Working at home with a toddler is the ultimate adventure in multitasking. It requires you to be a mom and a professional simultaneously, and it can all too often leave you feeling like you are failing at both. To combat that feeling, and to make your days smoother and more productive, build a solid, but flexible schedule, and establish a mindset that allows you to thrive in both of your jobs.
Be Present in the Moment
The mindset starts with being present in the moment. If you plan to jump on an important conference call during naptime, try your best to put that out of your mind while you are going through the naptime routine with your toddler. They will feel your energy shifting towards work, and they will respond to your adrenaline spike as your mind is racing through your notes. So, in the interest of a smooth transition to naptime for your toddler, and a stress-free call for you, make sure that you are focused on your child and the sleep routine at that moment.
When you do have dedicated, uninterrupted time to work, avoid the temptation to put away the blocks that you left on the floor. Resist the urge to open Instagram to share photos from your trip to the park. Just as much as you owe it to your toddler to be present in the moment with them, you owe it to your work — and to yourself — to be present in that moment, too.
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Work Together, Or: Working (at Home) Together
Set up space for the two of you to “work together” when you need to complete tasks like social media scheduling, invoicing, or administrative work. Put your toddler in a high chair next to you, or in a safe, gated space on the floor next to you, and offer them toys they only get to play with at these times. Playdough, soft building toys, or even a water table (space permitting) are great toddler treats that keep them occupied and happy and give you enough time to complete some of your tasks. Make sure that you reserve these toys and activities for this time only, so your toddler looks forward to — and even asks for — special work together time.
If you allow your toddler screen time, this is another good option during the “work together” periods of the day. Rather than turning on a show or movie at the end of the day, save that time for reading, and let your little one enjoy their daily dose of Sesame Street while you schedule posts or respond to client emails.
Pro Tip: As much as possible, keep the conversation going with your toddler during this time. Moms are masterful multitaskers (sometimes to our own detriment). Use that skill at this time. By chatting with, and commenting on what your child is doing, you are letting them know you’re still there with them. They don’t need to worry about fighting for your attention. It’s a good way to keep the playdough throwing to a minimum!
Schedule Calls During Naptime
If your child has a solid nap schedule, schedule calls for this time when you know that there will be no background noise and you can focus exclusively on the call. To keep your stress to a minimum, plan to be on the phone about ten minutes after you are sure your toddler will be asleep and plan to end the call about fifteen minutes before you expect them to wake up. This keeps you from feeling rushed before your call’s start time or distracted at the end of your call when you want to focus on connecting with your client or team member.
Scheduling like this works for your work life, too. Providing a hard stop time for your calls allows everyone involved to stay focused on the matters at hand, and to respect each other’s time.
Take Calls on Walks
If you have to make quick follow-up calls to clients or co-workers, try to knock these out when your toddler is tucked into the stroller and occupied by looking around and going on an adventure. Plenty of other professionals take calls on the go while they are commuting or heading from one meeting to another. This is the work-at-home mom’s version of the same thing.
Though you want to save this strategy for shorter, less formal calls as opposed to weekly conference calls or interviews, taking a call on the go with your little one in tow is a great way to maximize mom time and work time. If your toddler falls asleep while you are out, catch up on more work. Find a quiet spot to sit down and send emails or work on ongoing projects. Smartphones are the work-at-home mom’s lifeline. With a little flexibility and patience, you and your child don’t have to miss out on the chance to get outside and enjoy the world, while still getting everything done that you need to do in a day.
Manage Working-at-Home Expectations
Your workday is not as predictable with a toddler as it was when you were on your own. To be successful, and to achieve any sort of balance, set reasonable expectations for everyone, starting with yourself.
Build room for meltdowns and missed naps into your schedule. Don’t go down to the wire with deadlines. If you are sure you can have something ready to send to your boss at 1:30 PM, tell her to expect it at 2:30 PM. If you have it by 1:30, great, send it early and show her how much you’re rocking the WAHM life. If you don’t, you have built in the time you need to get it to her when she expects it.
As much as your toddler is living the work-at-home life right along with you, be aware of expectations with them, too. Remember, your child is not your co-worker. Let them be little, and try not to demand more than they are able to give.
Toddlers understand schedules. They thrive with schedules, but you can’t press upon them how important your upcoming presentation is. And you can only schedule — and plan — for so much. Bring in help for the times you need dedicated time with a guarantee of total, uninterrupted focus. In other cases, try to be as flexible and creative as possible. And know that your child is getting experiences and learning lessons that will help them for the rest of their lives. Let them feel like they’re part of your team, and celebrate your victories together.
Elizabeth Eames is a writer, communications consultant and coach who has been helping entrepreneurs, small businesses and non-profits tell their stories for over a decade.
Liz lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and daughter and has a master’s degree from Fordham University. Her writing has appeared in business magazines and a variety of parenting and business blogs.